Why Kogelberg Nature Reserve is the perfect place to unplug

15 November 2015 - 02:00 By Tanya Farber

Tanya Farber goes for a night - and a hike - in what some call CapeNature's most beautiful reserve There's a guilty pleasure to living in Cape Town. Forget for a moment the landscape pinched into mountains around the CBD, or the beaches and forests that live up to the no-filter-needed photographs in glossy brochures.I'm talking more about the day trips and weekend getaways which for others could justify a 20-hour flight, but which are the stuff of spontaneity if you live here.Living in the Mother City and having a car means easy access to a glorious patchwork of wine farms and coastal scenic drives, and one of these is Clarence Drive (or the R44), which curls its way from Gordon's Bay to Rooi Els.Even if you did it on a daily basis, you might gasp at the sheer spectacle of it: pristine mountain to your left, endless ocean to your right and a blue-canvas sky stretched overhead.But still, you'd be on a tar road "passing through" rather than a rough road that takes you into its heart.As soon as you turn off into the Kogelberg Nature Reserve, you see that the mountain face on the road side is simply the façade of a natural art gallery that might house a million masterpieces. And right now, you're making your way through the entrance hall.First stop: checking in to the Oudebosch eco-cabins in the middle of the reserve.The architects and designers were clearly hand-picked to achieve a light-footed balance: the cabins, with their recycled-bottle light fittings and stacked-stone walls, are luxurious but in no way excessive.mini_story_image_vleft1They blend in to nature but are certainly not "rustic" (euphemism for ramshackle). Even the long-drop toilets, seemingly at odds with the décor-magazine bathrooms, make a statement, and in the middle of the site, there is a pool that also blends nature with human construction.After settling in, I moved down to the communal boma - a perfect spot if you're there with other friends or families - and began sipping on my sundowner.Cape Town seemed like a different planet as we sat there, hugged by the silence of the mountains.But then, the sun left us - and a symphony of chattering teeth started to play.Within minutes, every guest had left the boma in search of a fleece and had come back either bundled up or grumbling that they hadn't packed properly.Luckily for me, I am child-like enough to have the equivalent of a security blanket and adult enough to dutifully pack it wherever I go.I never travel without a hot-water bottle secreted away inside my suitcase because feeling cold can ruin any experience for me. Unless I am travelling to a tropical island - an event that happens about once every 2-billion years or so - my trusty HWB comes along. This time, it was a lifesaver. I clutched it like a long-lost relative while we sat at the boma and ate a scrumptious dinner.Once back inside my cabin, it wasn't as necessary. Luxurious blankets abound, and the warmth of the wood in all its clean-line glory creates a rather snug cocoon for the traveller. It felt as if, during the day, the wood had soaked up the sun and stored its warmth for later use.A word of caution here: do not visit these exquisite eco-cabins in the hope of staying connected to the outside world. There is no reception here, which forces your fingers to reach out to nature rather than the touchscreen.I had the misfortune of having to file a story overnight to my news editor, who would be holed up in a building in the Big City come morning. Writing the story was no problem: with said luxurious blankets draped all over me, I was living the fantasy - writing, out in nature, in solitude.But the next morning, wheels were screeching along the rough and narrow road that winds through the mountain as I desperately sought reception.mini_story_image_vright2Eventually, the kind man at the boom let me use his land line. His facial expression said, "Keep it brief." I felt a bit like a prisoner who could make one measly call, and my man (back home keeping kids and dogs and fish and rats in the pink) was soon writing down an administrative to-do list that I sent booming through the phone lines.And that is not ideal.Rather travel there on a weekend when you have a cliché pinned to your forehead: "I need to get away from it all" - and then do just that.Once back from my frantic call, we gathered for the hike that begins near the eco-cabins and ends at the doorstep of Betty's Bay.Theoretically, it takes two hours. And I am sure it would, were it not for the fact that one is surrounded by the most exhilarating variety of fynbos in the foreground and sweeping vistas beyond. Intermittent stops to gaze in wonder are mandatory because, even if you've hiked the length and breadth of the Western Cape's mountains, this is a jaw-dropper.It also doesn't help when the photographer (one Ruvan Boshoff) has a propensity for getting up close and personal with every erica, and can spot a single protea from 2km away. I am quite certain that, more than 10 times, I turned around to see him dangling off the mountain or lying on the ground capturing the innermost square inch of the smallest petal on the most minuscule of plants in his lens. And who can blame him? The beauty of this reserve lies not only in the dramatic sculpture of the landscape but also in the insane variety of fynbos all around you as you hike.story_article_left1It is, after all, considered the heart of the Cape Floral Kingdom and is part of a larger Biosphere Reserve declared by Unesco. What this means is that it's "an ecosystem with plants and animals of unusual scientific and natural interest" and every effort should be made to protect it.Hiking is, therefore, carefully regulated and once you're out there gazing up at the mountain and down at the vegetation, you're walking amongst the masterpieces.This particular hike (which is one of many) ends at the Harold Porter National Botanical Garden, so it is wise to leave a car there if possible.I suspect most hikers may have had their fill of nature by then and would be on the hunt for a cold beer or a warm coffee. If not, the garden's manicured appeal is the perfect foil to the tough terrain of the biosphere. There is a restaurant right there if you can't walk another step.After this, we headed out to the Paul Cluver Wine Estate. Suffice it to say, I still fantasise about that lunch. Crispy white wine, seared salmon, and drool-inducing dessert were the perfect punctuation mark after a hike in the mountains.Will I go back? Most definitely. With my HWB, a good book, and no deadline.Tanya Farber travelled courtesy of Kogelberg Nature Reserve and SA Mint.sub_head_start IF YOU GO... sub_head_endGETTING THERE: From Cape Town, take the N2 north. Turn right onto Sir Lowry's Pass Road. At the T-junction in Gordon's Bay, go left onto the R44. Just before Kleinmond, you'll see the Kogelberg sign.RATES: R1,170 per night per cabin (sleeps max four); plus a R40-per-adult/ R20-per-child conservation fee.CONTACT: Capenature.co.za

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